Associate since 1991
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November 1st, 2011
Pakistan is in the hole of all holes. Telling the country's rulers, generals and fundamentalist agitators that the first law of holes is to stop digging goes unheard. It makes one almost wish for a return to the calm, measured, ways of the former military quasi-dictator, Pervez Musharraf, who was ousted in 2008.
Once president, after the army coup that ejected the democratically elected Nawaz Sharif, Musharraf cast aside his previous macho character that once had nearly led to nuclear war between Pakistan and India when he led the army to attack the district of Kargil on the border of the divided state of Kashmir. He dropped many of Pakistan's conditions for making peace with India. Diplomats both in Pakistan and India thought that India would never get a better deal over Kashmir. But although Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India was in favour of the historic compromise he failed to convince his foreign ministry, his intelligence services, the military or much of the public.
Going back in time much responsibility needs to heaped on the shoulders of the supposedly most pacific of all American presidents, Jimmy Carter. Carter allowed himself to be thrown off course by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Carter put his telescope to his blind eye and ignored what Pakistan's nuclear establishment was up to in return for forging an anti-Soviet partnership to arm the mujahidin. For years after, under Carter and then under Ronald Reagan, the White House went through an annual ritual of giving assurances that all was well in Pakistan's nuclear laboratories. The Americans knew it was not. Pakistan was busy developing its bomb.
Today something approaching panic is to be found in the corridors of the foreign ministries of the western powers. Pakistan has ended up, as the British prime minister, David Cameron, said on a visit to Pakistan earlier this year, "facing both ways". On the one hand, it is officially on the US/NATO side in fighting the Taliban, both Afghani and Pakistani.
On the other, the Inter-Service Intelligence agency that has long been behind the mujahidin operating in Kashmir, but was reined in under Musharraf, is now in full swing, aiding the Taliban and aiding (or at least facilitating) anti-Indian terrorists who three years ago attacked two major hotels in Mumbai, killing 170 people.
Meanwhile, the army command has moved to a more nationalistic posture and the number of militants among Pakistan's population appears to be growing in numbers- and fiercer and crueller in purpose. (Yet in the last election two years ago the religious political parties saw their vote drop sharply from the 12% they won in the previous election, which suggests the militants, who hide under the skirts of the religious parties, were being repudiated by an overwhelming majority of voters.)
The Americans accuse the government of President Asif Ali Zardari of not reining in either the army or the ISI and not being as helpful as before in trying to defeat the Taliban. Nor were they helpful in the search for Osama bin Laden. President Zardari counters by saying he lost his own wife, Benazir Bhutto, in an attack by fundamentalist terrorists and that India is making aggressive moves to sidle up to Afghanistan's central government in its quest to open up another flank to hem in Pakistan.
The government appears to have lost credibility both at home and abroad. The economy which achieved high growth under Musharraf is failing badly, leading to large-scale unemployment and new recruits for the fundamentalists. A military coup is on the cards. So are stepped up efforts by terrorists to infiltrate the country's nuclear bomb facilities. So are their attempts to seriously wound India and to make it impossible for India to take major steps towards peace in Kashmir - which it is trying to do once again, with matching support on the Pakistani side from Zardari.
Some observers fear the disintegration of Pakistan. A conceivable scenario is the Taliban coming to power again in Afghanistan and using that as a base, working with the Pakistani-based Taliban, for stepping up its war of attrition against both the Pakistan government and the US military presence and operations inside Pakistan.
An early election in Pakistan might help clear the air - especially so if the party of Iram Khan, the former Pakistani cricket captain, won enough votes from the centre to form a government. Khan is sane, unencumbered by false alliances and allegations of corruption and could hopefully find a way to re-start the economy, control the army, end Pakistan's alliance with the US and isolate the extreme fundamentalists. It is a long shot but what alternative is there?
Does Pakistan want to topple into the hole it has dug for itself? Doesn't it need peace with India? Doesn't it need to clean out the fanatics in the ISI? And, not least, doesn't it need, now Osama bin Laden is dead, to step back from being involved either on one side or the other in the war in Afghanistan?
Copyright © 2011 Jonathan
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